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Go to Bible: Mark 9
“will absolutely not taste death.” Mark 9:1 is a continuation of what Jesus taught in Mark 8:34-38, just as it is in Matthew 16:24-28, and Mark 9:1 should not have been a new chapter but instead should be thought of as Mark 8:39, the last verse in Mark chapter 8. Jesus was teaching that people must live with such a mindset that they would be ready to give up their life for Jesus’ sake, and that Jesus was coming back soon (Matt. 16:27), and that is why he said that “some” of the people in his audience would not die before they saw the “the Kingdom of God come with power.”
[For more information on what Jesus was teaching, see commentary on Matthew 16:28.]
“they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.” This text is not just saying that these people will see the kingdom as it comes, but they will see it after it has come.(top)
“Peter and James and John.” Thus there are three witnesses to the Transformation.
“transformed.” For an explanation of the Transfiguration, see commentary on Matthew 17:2.(top)
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“say.” The Greek is apokrithē (#611 ἀποκριθῇ), technically, “answer,” but in this case, he was “answering” the situation, not a question. Hendriksen states: “Here, as in verse 5 and often, the verb ἀποκριθῇ has a wide meaning, so that τί ἀποκριθῇ means, “what he should say,” or “what to say.”a
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“out from among the dead.” See commentary on Romans 4:24. Wuest: “out from amongst the dead.”(top)
“And they kept the matter to themselves, discussing…” The disciples did not expect Jesus to be killed and then raised from the dead. That is simply not what most first-century Jews believed about the Messiah, so they did not understand what Jesus was speaking of when he spoke of being raised from the dead (see commentary on Luke 18:34).(top)
“Elijah.” John the Baptist was “Elijah.” See commentary on Matthew 17:10.(top)
“come first to restore.” If the text is to be translated and understood as if John did restore everything, then the restoration has to refer to a spiritual restoration. However, it seems apparent that John did not restore everything. In fact, that John did not manage to restore everything sets the stage for Jesus’ question, “how is it that it is written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” In other words, the disciples need to understand that John did not restore everything, which is one reason the Messiah must suffer and die.
It is a well-known aspect of Semitic languages that an active verb can represent an attempt to do something, not an accomplishment of something. In other words, instead of John “restoring” everything, he “tried” to restore everything. This use of the Hebrew verb is well documented and even appears in places such as the “Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation” section in the front of Young’s Concordance (hint
It is because of the Semitic idiom that versions such as the ESV, NRSV, and RSV, say “to restore all things.” John came to restore all things, but could not accomplish that task, which is a reason that Jesus had to suffer and die.
“and yet.”a Jesus was asking the question, without answering it, how it could be that if Elijah came and restored everything, there was any need for the suffering of the Messiah. The disciples did not believe that the Messiah would die (and did not truly understand that until after his resurrection). Thus, Jesus is just trying to get them to open their mind to other possibilities for the Messiah than they had learned in Synagogue. The question is a good one, because although the death of the Messiah was veiled to the disciples, the fact that he would suffer should have been clear to them. But why even that if John did indeed restore all things? The restoration of John was a spiritual restoration, turning people’s hearts back to God. It was not a political restoration, or a full restoration in which the Devil and his minions were defeated, all the people turned to God, and the curse removed from the earth.
“and restores.” The Greek uses just the participle, “restoring.”
“just as it is written about him.” In the comparison between Elijah and John the Baptist, the things that were written about how Elijah was treated are brought forward to John the Baptist just like the name “Elijah” was brought forward to apply to John. Although “Elijah” (John the Baptist) in Malachi 4 is not foretold to be treated with contempt, since the prophet Elijah was treated with contempt in the Old Testament, we would expect John, who was called Elijah, to be treated with contempt in the New Testament.
[For more on John the Baptist being called “Elijah,” see commentary on Matthew 17:10.](top)
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“very excited.” For the definition “very excited,” see BDAG, and see the CEB. The people were excited to see Jesus because of what they had seen him do and his reputation. Although most versions read “amazed,” there is no particular reason that the crowd would be “amazed” here. Jesus was not doing any miracles at this time, he simply had come down from Mount Hermon.(top)
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“strong enough.” The Greek is ischuō (#2480 ἰσχύω), which means strength. This verse gives us a glimpse into the spiritual battle that can wage when demons live inside a body. It takes spiritual strength to cast them out. That strength comes from trust (Matt. 17:20), which is connected to one’s prayer life (Mark 9:29). Another example of strength in the spiritual battle is Revelation 12:8. The Devil and his demons wanted to remain in heaven, but they were not strong enough to fight against Michael and the angels. To say the apostles “could not” cast out the demon is correct, but not helpful, because then we have no idea why. The Greek is more helpful, saying that the spirit did not come out because the apostles were not spiritually strong enough. Spiritual power in the life of a believer is usually not a matter of either having it or not, it is usually a matter of how much power one has, and do we have enough to get the job at hand done for the Lord.(top)
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“the boy.” The Greek uses the pronouns, “he” and “him,” but those can be confusing, so the text has been clarified for the reader.(top)
“how long.” The Greek is more literally, “how long a time,” but we would simply say “how long.”(top)
“if you are able to do anything.” The man obviously knows Jesus can do some miracles. The question he is asking is “Are you strong enough to fight this spirit and cast it out?” After all, he said the disciples were not strong enough to cast it out.(top)
“What do you mean, ‘If you are able to?’” The Greek text is simply, “if you are able to.” There are two different ways the phrase can be understood. The most accepted way is that Jesus is repeating the man’s words because the man questioned Jesus, and Jesus was saying, “How can you be questioning me when you can see the miracles that I do?” However, the phrase can also be taken as Jesus throwing the man’s question back onto the man, and saying, “No, if YOU are able to,” meaning the man has to believe in the power of God in order to see God’s miracles in his life.
“All things are possible for the one who believes.” This is not a “blanket statement,” that all you have to do is believe and anything at all will be done for you. It is clear from the rest of Scripture, and even in Jesus’ life, that what is being said is that once God makes His will known and gives you revelation about something, then all you do is believe God’s revelation and what God said will be done. We must be careful not to read ourselves into this verse, or to understand this verse as, “All things are guaranteed to the one who believes.” Instead, Jesus is assuring the father of this epileptic boy about the power of God. With revelation and belief, or trust, God can do anything.
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“subdued.” The Greek word translated “subdued” is epitimaō (#2008 ἐπιτιμάω). In this context, epitimaō has a technical meaning: it is used in Greek religion of gaining control over a spirit, a demon (see commentary on Mark 1:25).(top)
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“by anything except prayer.” This statement does not mean that one has to pray before casting the demon out of the person. Jesus did not take the time to pray. It means to be effective in demonic deliverance, one must live an obedient life before God, which includes much prayer.
Some Greek texts have “prayer and fasting,” but the textual research that is available to do today shows that the phrase “and fasting” was added to the original text.(top)
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“is going to be handed over.” The Greek is paradidōmi (#3860 παραδίδωμι), and in this context, it means to give into the hands of another; to deliver up treacherously; by betrayal to cause someone to be taken. It is present tense, but is an example of the “prophetic present,” meaning the present tense is stated, but it is prophetic of something that will happen in the future. Thus, some versions render the verb, “will be delivered over” or something similar. The prophetic present has “the note of certain expectation” (Lenski), because it is spoken as if the action is occurring at that very time. Jesus’ betrayal was not far away.
[For more on the idioms of the prophetic present and prophetic perfect, see the commentary on Luke 3:9 and Ephesians 2:6.](top)
“But they did not understand the saying.” Jesus taught about his suffering, death, and resurrection many times. However, in spite of Jesus’ clearly stating he would suffer, die, and be raised from the dead, the disciples never understood what he meant. This gives us some very important insight into how the Jews at the time of Jesus viewed their Messiah. Just as they never expected a virgin birth (note Mary’s reaction to the angel’s message--Luke 1:34), they never expected their Messiah to suffer and die. This verse and others, such as Luke 18:34, make that plain. Even after his death and resurrection, upon seeing the empty tomb, they did not understand what had happened (John 20:9). It took Jesus personally appearing to a number of people for the disciples to believe he had been raised from the dead. Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:16), then to the women who came to the tomb (Matt. 28:9), then to Peter (this appearing is not recorded in Scripture; we are only told that it happened; Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5); then to the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:31), then to the disciples as a group (Luke 24:36ff). Even with all that evidence, Thomas, who was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared, still did not believe until he had personally seen the resurrected Lord (John 20:26-28). Ultimately, it took both understanding the Scriptures and seeing the resurrected Christ to fully confirm their belief in the resurrected Christ (Luke 24:45; and see commentary on Matthew 16:21).(top)
“arguing about.” The Greek could also be “discussing,” but it is likely that since the young men were speaking about who was the greatest among them it was at least a somewhat heated discussion or small argument.(top)
“greatest.” This record occurs in Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37; and Luke 9:46-48. The word translated “greatest” is actually the comparative “greater.” The argument was about who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:1). (See commentary on Luke 9:46).(top)
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“him.” The text does not give us the sex of the child but culturally it would have been a boy “in the midst” of a group of men. Jesus would have been more respectful in the culture than to pick up someone's little girl, and in fact, that a little girl would be in his immediate audience is very improbable. The same account is in Matthew 18:2 and Luke 9:47.(top)
“only...also.” When a person receives Christ, he receives God as well. For this idiomatic way of speaking, see commentary on 1 John 3:18.(top)
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“For whoever is not against us is for us.” This is said in the opposite way (and perhaps more clearly) in Matthew 12:30: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters.” Although they are worded differently, both have the same message and neither statement allows for a neutral ground. There is no neutrality in the spiritual battle: we are either for or against God.
Both ways of saying that people were either for you or against you were attested in the ancient world, and Jesus’ disciples were no doubt familiar with the concepts. The world in ancient times was very tough and there were many situations in which neutrality was not acceptable and people had to choose which side they were on. When the Roman philosopher Cicero (106-43 BC) defended the people of Pompeii to Caesar, he quoted Caesar’s own words back to him, saying to Caesar, “Let that maxim of yours, which won you your victory, hold good. For we have often heard you say that, while we considered all who were not with us as our enemies, you considered all who were not against you as your friends.”a
We are all either “for” or “against” God and Jesus. If we are not “against” him then we are for him. If we are not “with” him then we are against him. Someone might say, “Well, I am not against him, but I am not ‘for’ him either.” That statement only shows an ignorance of the spiritual battle and the reality behind the spiritual battle. God created the world, and us, and He demands our allegiance. Someone who is unwilling to recognize God to the point of getting saved is an enemy of God and will end up in Gehenna. Someone who recognizes God to the point of getting saved is part of the Kingdom of God. There is no place where “neutral people” go on the Day of Judgment. The sheep go into the Kingdom, the goats into the Lake of Fire. Being unwilling to commit to being “for” or “against” God is actually part of the Devil’s plot to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Especially to our modern ears, not being for or against something sounds so reasonable and good-natured that it is easy to think that God must be some kind of Ogre for demanding that we believe in Him. But in the End, we will not be able to sweep under the rug the fact that He is our creator, and He created us for a purpose; a purpose that is intertwined with His own purposes, and if we do not want to support Him, then we are in fact against Him.
There is a story about a man who was sitting on a fence, with the Devil on one side and God on the other. God and the Devil were both trying to get the man to come down off the fence to their side. The arguments and pleas went on hour after hour, but the man would not make a decision or come down from the fence. At the end of the day, God went home to heaven and the Devil said to the man, “OK, come down and come with me.” The man said, “But I am still on the fence; I have not made a decision yet.” The Devil replied, “Come down. You obviously don’t understand. I own the fence.” How true. If you are not “for” God, you are against Him.
“in my name.” The “my” is not specifically in the text but is implied.(top)
“millstone turned by a donkey.” The Greek literally reads, “millstone of a donkey,” and it refers to the large commercial millstones, which weighed many hundreds of pounds and were turned by donkeys or oxen. There would be no point in tying a commercial millstone to anyone’s neck and throwing him in the water—any much smaller weight would do the job. Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point. Most translations do not point out that this verse is speaking about the huge commercial millstones and not the standard household millstone that women used to grind the household grain.
[For more on millstones, see commentary on Deut. 24:6.]
“lake.” From the context, he was teaching in Capernaum, right beside the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake.(top)
“Gehenna.” See commentary on Matthew 5:22.
[For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”]
“life.” This refers to the Life in the Age to Come. See commentary on Luke 10:28.
“unquenchable fire.” That the fire is “unquenchable” does not mean that it will not eventually burn out, it means that it cannot be purposely put out until the fuel is gone and it burns out on its own (see commentary on Mark 9:48).(top)
This entire verse (and Mark 9:46) was an addition to the text, and so is omitted in the REV, and it is omitted in many other modern versions as well. Metzger simply makes the comment that these verses are “lacking in important early witnesses” [i.e. manuscripts] and “were added by copyists from v. 48.”a In other words, the evidence that this verse, as well as verse 46, were added by copyists is so strong that it is not even debated by scholars. See commentary on Mark 9:48.
“Gehenna.” See commentary on Matthew 5:22.
[For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”]
“life.” The Greek is literally, “the life,” which refers to the life in the Age to Come, that is “everlasting life.” See commentary on Luke 10:28.(top)
This entire verse (and Mark 9:44) was an addition to the text, and so is omitted in the REV, just as it is omitted in many other modern versions as well. Metzger simply makes the comment that these verses are “lacking in important early witnesses” [i.e. manuscripts] and “were added by copyists from v. 48.”a In other words, the evidence that this verse, as well as verse 44, were added by copyists is so strong that it is not even debated by scholars. See commentary on Mark 9:48.
“gouge it out.” The Greek is literally, “throw it out,” but we would say “gouge it out.”
“Gehenna.” See commentary on Matthew 5:22.
[For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”](top)
“their worm does not die.” This verse is quoted from Isaiah 66:24, and it has been used to prove that people “burn in hell forever,” but that is not what it is teaching. Both in Isaiah and here in Mark, it is teaching that unsaved people are totally destroyed. Jesus specifically uses the word Gehenna, which is where people will be destroyed (Mark 9:47), while Isaiah does not mention the place, but simply says people will “go out” (of the city) and see the dead bodies. We know from the book of Revelation that the destruction of the wicked will occur in the Lake of Fire (see Rev. 20:14-15).
Gehenna was the garbage dump of Jerusalem. All kinds of garbage, and even dead animals, were thrown into Gehenna and destroyed. The fires in the valley burned up everything that could be burned, and the maggots and worms ate up the vegetable and animal waste. Everyone in Christ’s audience knew this. No one thought that the wood, rags, or other burnables that had been thrown into Gehenna burned forever in the valley, or that animal and vegetable garbage lasted forever, eternally being consumed by worms. Christ’s point in comparing the Valley of Gehenna to the future Lake of Fire was graphic and clear: if a person was thrown into Gehenna on the Day of Judgment, he would never be restored, he would be totally consumed; he would be annihilated.
[For more information on Gehenna, see commentary on Matthew 5:22.]
One thing that helps us understand Jesus’ teaching is knowing that Isaiah 66:24 is not speaking of living people suffering, but dead bodies in the process of being destroyed. This is clear from paying attention to the context and vocabulary of the verse. Isaiah 66:24 says, “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” From this, we can see that this verse is not talking about living people being tortured. It is talking about dead people being totally destroyed.
In reading Isaiah chapter 66, we can see that the closing verses are about God’s judgment on the wicked, and how He will destroy them with fire and sword (Isa. 66:16). This is a general picture of God’s judgment, and could refer to either to the Battle of Armageddon just before the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 19:19-21) or to the Final War at the end of the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:7-10), or even to both. At some point after the battles, the unrighteous people go to the place where God has thrown the bodies of the unsaved, and they are all dead, they are not suffering. Isaiah said the righteous will look upon the “dead bodies,” and the Hebrew word peger (#06297 פֶּגֶר) is always used of dead bodies, never living ones. Those dead bodies were being consumed by worms and fire, and eventually would be completely gone. So we see that Isaiah is not portraying the suffering of the wicked, but their final fate: destruction.
When Jesus quoted Isaiah 66:24 in his teaching, he quoted it to reinforce his point, which was the same point that Isaiah was making: that there is no restitution for the wicked, only complete annihilation. Jesus was not modifying or correcting what Isaiah wrote. Rather, Jesus was teaching about Gehenna, and quoted Isaiah to help emphasize the point he was making about the destruction of the wicked. In another teaching, Jesus made it clear that God would destroy both “body and soul” in Gehenna (Matt. 10:28).
The phrase, “their worm does not die,” does not mean the worms never die. “Immortal worms” would not have made sense to anyone in biblical times. Neither Isaiah nor Jesus was teaching or explaining a new doctrine that worms somehow lived forever. This is not picturing everlasting torment, but rather that the worms and fire will not stop until everything in Gehenna has been annihilated. People who vermapost (that is, compost by using worms), are very familiar with the fact that as long as they keep adding garbage to the worm bins, the worms there do not die off, but multiply. Individual worms die, but collectively the worms eat and multiply until all their food is gone, at which point they starve and die. Of course, there cannot be literal worms, as we know worms, in Gehenna, because they could not survive, so they may just be a metaphor for total destruction, but it is possible that God would miraculously keep worms alive to be part of the destruction of the wicked. Most orthodox teachers do not believe the worms are literal, but believe they are a figure to portray horrible suffering. However, as we saw, the people were “dead bodies,” they were not alive. Many of the “worms” eating the rotting flesh and food are maggots, and the NLT version reads “maggots.”
“and the fire is not quenched.” Just as the phrase “the worm does not die” does not mean that there are “immortal worms,” but rather means that the worms will eat until there is no more food, the phrase “is not quenched,” does not mean the fire burns forever, it means it is never purposely put out. Firemen today are very familiar with house fires that “cannot be quenched,” and do not go out until the house is consumed to ash. We disagree with Lenski and other commentators who insist that these words portray everlasting torment. For example, Lenski writes, “A fire that is ‘unquenchable’ is by that very fact eternal.”a That is not accurate. The text simply states the fire is “not quenched.” No one puts the fire out, but that does not mean the fire does not go out when the fuel is gone.
God uses the word “quenched” (or “extinguished”) for fires (or anger) that cannot be extinguished but will go out on its own a number of times in the Bible. Many verses support the idea that “not quenched” simply means that no one can put the fire out until it burns out. Ezekiel 20:47 speaks of God causing a fire in the forest in the Negev and says, “the blazing flame will not be quenched,” but that does not mean that the woods of the Negev will burn forever, they will burn until the trees are burned up. Jeremiah 17:27 is a prophecy of Jerusalem that if the people do not obey God and keep the Sabbath holy, “I will kindle a fire in its [Jerusalem’s] gates, and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it will not be quenched.” The palaces in Jerusalem do not burn forever, no one can “quench” the fire in them until they are burned down and gone.
God also uses the word “quench” with the same meaning for fires and anger. God speaks of His anger that cannot be “quenched,” meaning that people cannot put it out, but it will eventually die out. For example, because of the idolatry of Judah, God said His anger would not be “quenched” (2 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron. 34:25; Jer. 7:20; 17:27). Indeed, Judah was destroyed by Babylon and the people carried into captivity, but eventually God’s anger died down and Judah returned from captivity to the Promised Land. So God’s anger could not be “quenched,” but it could stop, and that is what will happen in Gehenna. It will take a very long time, but eventually, the fire of Gehenna will burn out.
So the biblical and lexical evidence is that “not quenched” does not mean “eternal” but rather means it cannot be put out until the fuel burns out. The phrase “not quenched” would only refer to a fire that burned forever if the other biblical evidence showed that the fuel for the fire lasted forever, but the other biblical evidence supports the eventual destruction of the wicked. When people are thrown into Gehenna after they are judged on the Day of Judgment, the fire there will not be able to be put out, and the worms there will not die until there is nothing left to consume and all the sinners have been annihilated.
The Bible does not describe people’s suffering in the Lake of Fire, it simply notes that there will be some suffering there. Nevertheless, as the teaching about “eternal hell” continued to be developed and embellished throughout Church history, there was a tremendous fascination and emphasis on “hell.” This is well represented in Christian art through the centuries and in literature such as the epic poem, Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (the first part of which is titled “Inferno,” which is Italian for “Hell”). It is worth noting that there was such a fascination with hell that somehow the phrase about the worm not dying and the fire not being quenched was added two more times in some manuscripts of Mark. Thus, both Mark 9:44 and 9:46 were added to some manuscripts, but those two occurrences are not in the original text and are not in most modern Bibles.
[For more on annihilation, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”]
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“if the salt has become unsalty.” For how salt can become unsalty, see commentary on Matthew 5:13.
“have salt in yourselves.” This obscure saying is connected to the salt covenant, which was a way to make a binding agreement between people. The salt covenant is sometimes called the “friendship covenant” because even when enemies ate salt together they were bound by the covenant to help and protect each other. It was not always possible to eat a meal together and so have “peace” (the Hebrew is “shalom” and means more than just “peace,” it means well-being), but if people had salt in themselves they would have shalom with those they met. Followers of Jesus are, like him, to be as much at peace with the world around them as it is possible to be (cp. Rom. 12:18).
[For more on the salt covenant, see commentary on 2 Chron. 13:5.]
“one another.” The phrase “one another” occurs in the context of the community of believers, and while we are to be good to everyone, in the context of the New Testament Epistles, the commands toward “one another” are specifically to other believers. For example, Christians are to be “especially good to the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). It is very important for the richness of our lives together here on earth, for our personal growth here on earth, and for rewards in the next life, that each Christian needs to be “other focused;” focused on others and how we can help them. The phrase “one another” occurs many times in the New Testament, stating and reinforcing that truth.
[For more on the “one another” commands, see commentary on Galatians 5:13, “one another.” For more on “love one another,” see commentary on John 13:34.](top)